Helmet and Spear - Alfred J. Church


I take it for granted that none of my readers doubt the existence of a definite purpose—some may prefer to call it a tendency —in human history. Writers on this subject have often been accused of dwelling too much on war. But war is the ultimate expression of human will, and war, with all its horrors and losses, has worked, we are glad to believe, for the general good. The fittest among the nations have survived. We cannot estimate the loss which mankind would have suffered if the great military monarchies of the East had crushed out of existence the insignificant tribe which was to be the world's teacher in righteousness. Something of the same kind may be seen in what is called secular history.

Greece struggled bravely, against what must have seemed almost hopeless odds, to preserve herself from Persian domination. If the eleven thousand "Men of Marathon" had been trodden under foot by the hosts of Persia, the Athens of the fifth century, with its free political life and unrivalled intellectual development, would not have existed. A sterile despotism, without literature or art, would have taken its place, and the world would have been incalculably the poorer for the exchange.

What is true of the struggle between Greece and Persia is true also of the great conflict, lasting for more than two centuries, in which the Sicilian Greeks, with now and then a little help from the motherland, held their own against Carthage. Persia and Carthage, though differing much from each other, were equally hostile to the essential principles of Western civilisation.

Little need be said as to the issue of the wars between Rome and Carthage. Rome, indeed, took up the cause for which Greece had contended. It is impossible to conceive a Carthaginian Empire exercising a worldwide sway with anything like the beneficial results for which the world has to thank the dominion of Rome. Carthaginian politics and morals, as far as we have any knowledge of them, seem to have been narrow and inhuman.

When we come to the conquests of Alexander, we are not able, it must be confessed, to see our way so plainly. We may perceive, however, in it the spread of Greek influence over Western Asia. That influence had already been at work. Greek colonies had been planted far to the east; the Oriental nations had been much affected by Greek thought and manners. Alexander's brief career—it lasted but eleven years—did much to promote this Hellenizing process.

The empire of the great conqueror fell to pieces at his death, but two Greek kingdoms, to speak only of his Eastern dominion, were built out of the ruins. It was in these kingdoms that some of the earliest victories of Christianity were won. Given to the world by a Semitic tribe, our faith used largely for its spread Greek means, of which a common Greek language is the most obvious.

We need not prove that it was for the lasting good of the world that Rome was not crushed by the Celtic invaders of 390 B.C. or the Teutonic swarm of 112 B.C. It is equally plain that the development of the human race was largely helped by the subsequent spread of the Empire, till it embraced all Europe west of the Rhine and south of the Danube, all Northern Africa, and Asia west of the Euphrates. It is enough to say that Roman law is a dominating power in most of the codes of modern Europe, and an important element in all.

Finally, we have the overthrow of the Roman Empire by barbarians from the north and east. This overthrow may seem at first to be "chaos come again." So doubtless many thought at the time. Yet out of the turmoil of the fourth and the fifth centuries there came a new order, the order which we see in the Europe of to-day. The subject lies outside my province. I can only indicate the fact.